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#240, Vintage driver, vintage Bugatti

Nathanael Greene bought his 1925 Bugatti Type 35 in parts for $150,000. It's now worth more than $1 million.

Visiting a grandparent as a youngster often includes affection, treats and wisdom, all offered for free. It leads to buying a Bugatti in parts for $150,000 less frequently.

Nathanael Greene’s childhood visits to New Hampshire resulted in his 65-year history with the iconic automobile introduced by Italian-French carmaker Ettore Bugatti in 1924. Greene owns three, including the 1925 Bugatti Type 35 he’s competed in at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for many years beginning in 1997.

The former investment executive was my recent guest on The Weekly Driver Podcast during this year’s automotive gathering, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. He participated for five straight days in his rare vehicle.

Nathanael Greene, 80, and his 1925 Bugatti
Nathanael Greene, 80, and his 1925 Bugatti Type at Weather Raceway Laguna Seca. All images @ James Raia/2022

While co-host Bruce Aldrich was on vacation, talked with Greene about his lifelong passion for cars and his three Bugattis.

“I was visiting my grandmother in New Hampshire; I must have been 12 or 14,” Greene explained. “One day, there was this blue car going vroom down the street and vroom coming the other way, several different times.

“I thought, ‘this is fantastic.’ I had no idea at the time. Jump forward at least 20 years and I buy my grandmother’s house. I got to know the neighbor. He bought Bugatti Type 43 in 1952. He was a great car enthusiast, a great Bugatti enthusiast.”

The Bugatti undergoing road tests on suburban New England streets was given to Greene’s neighbor to sell. It became hugely successful in Europe. It also impressed Greene to the degree that bought his 1925 Bugatti Type in 1997. It was in parts.

Nathanael Greene owns three Bugattis. He participated in vintage races around the country.
Nathanael Greene owns three Bugattis. He participates in vintage races around the country.

“It (the Type 35) had been taken apart 20 years earlier,” said Greene. “But the guy bought another car, concentrated on that and this one got pushed to the back and nothing was done for a long time. I came along and said I would buy it and he said OK.”

Greene’s passion for Bugatti combines his keen interests in fine mechanics, driving, history and the umbrella of the automobile industry. He no longer works on the Bugatti Type 35, but he knows the minutiae of the brand and originator’s varied innovation. Greene also has two daily drivers, a Suburb Outback and a Volkswagen Sportwagen diesel.

“Bugattis were never the fastest cars, but they were the easiest to drive,” he said. “The races were generally 300 to 500 miles. Cars like Maserati would simply wear the drivers out. Everything about this car is so light.”

The Type 35, is a three-valve, two-liter engine with a four-speed transmission. It weighs 1,700 pounds and has 90 horsepower. The vehicle was driven to more than 1,000 wins, including the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship.

Nathanael Greene lives in New Hampshire. He participate in vintage car events at Laguna Seca since 1997 in his 1925 Bugatti.
Nathanael Greene lives in New Hampshire. He participate in vintage car events at Laguna Seca since 1997 in his 1925 Bugatti.

Greene’s father was an engineer who had more interest in steam than cars. The younger Greene has a degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University.

“I think somewhere between the ages of 12 and 15 there wasn’t anything I owned that I hadn’t taken apart and put back together,” said Greene who retired from an investment management career in 2004.

Greene only competes in his Type 35 and has completed more than 500 laps at Laguna Seca. He has also completed the Mille Miglia, the 1,0000-mile roundtrip event for vintage cars from Brescia to Rome.

As a vintage race competitor, Greene defines the events as competitions of respect.

“For racing, I think the pre-war is the best because everybody really respects the cars much more than the modern cars,” he said. “Everybody is really careful. In some ways, it’s more high-speed driving around the track as much as it is racing. I am never going to win. I know that. It’s the experience.”

As an octogenarian, Greene says his driving skills, including reaction instincts, haven’t diminished.

“You have to concentrate pretty thoroughly when it’s hot,” he said. “You’re racing, so this stuff gets hot. But you don’t think too much about it because you’re really concentrating on driving the car.”

Although has never dented his Bugatti or been hurt in the vehicle, a race steward once told him Greene he’d hit someone. The driver replied: “It wasn’t me.”

While participating at tracks around the country takes time, money and energy, Greene also had other recreational pursuits. He enjoyed helicopter skiing but stopped because of the Covid-19 epidemic. He likely won’t return to the slopes, but his vintage car racing will continue.

“It’s a terrific feeling,” said Greene. “It’s a lot of fun; it’s fun to show what the car can do. Yesterday in practice, it was the fifth-fastest in the group.”

Greene has dispatched several inquiries from potential buyers, but says he will eventually sell the Type 35, now likely worth $1 million and not in parts.

In the meantime, after a week on the Monterey Peninsula, Greene and his wife returned to their home in Peterborough, N.H. to prepare for The Hilliard U.S. Vintage Grand Prix weekend. IT begins Sept. 8 in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

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